January 19, 2022

Impact over intention and how diverse teams can help


This year has started with a number of individuals and organisations making very public communications mistakes, such as Ovo Energy and its misplaced advice to customers about how to cut heating bills. I was also particularly interested to read about the backlash against social media influencer Molly-Mae Hague when a snippet of a podcast she previously recorded went viral on social media.

Without going into too much detail, Molly-Mae said that “everyone has the same 24 hours in a day” implying that everyone is gifted the same time and each individual can make of that time what they will. This was in the context of talking about the “hard graft” she has so far put into building her career at the age of 22. The resultant backlash on social media focused on Molly-Mae’s statements not taking into account the privileges or the barriers people come up against in pursuing their goals, whether that’s illness, poverty, ethnicity or another event or inherent feature. Some people have described what she said as tone deaf.

Molly-Mae has since said that she wasn’t commenting on other people’s circumstances, but reflecting on her own experiences. This got me thinking about intention versus impact and that, as communications professionals, we not only need to help our clients unearth and hone their messages and advise on the delivery campaign vehicle for these, we also need to think on their behalf about the impact of those messages on a whole range of audiences, both intended and unintended.

The internet and social media also mean that those messages are inevitably disseminated to many more people than their core audience. And, as the case of Molly-Mae shows, what may have been considered advice or self-reflection can be received in a less than positive way and attract significant criticism. Given the potentially wide reach, and risk that intentions are not translated into well-received impacts, how can we, as communications professionals, best mitigate against unintended consequences, but at the same time help our clients to stand out from the crowd? “Ruffling feathers” and sparking debate is (I believe) a good thing, but going so far as to cause offence and alienate can backfire horribly.

One of the benefits of working in an agency is the network of talented colleagues you can tap into for their opinions and ideas. Whilst it’s a cliché, something I have learned over the years in this industry is that ‘many minds make great work’ and the ability to motivate a team to bring their strengths to the task at hand results in the best quality work. And this is where diverse teams are key. Diverse teams cannot only help generate unique ideas, they also represent a broader swathe of society and can give you insights into how different demographics will receive a campaign. Whilst it is possible to empathise with people with different life experiences to your own, this can only take you so far. Ultimately, tapping into colleagues with different experiences to your own can help you to spot issues you may not have seen, and help you to toe the line between sparking a conversation and a damaging backlash.

Personally, I don’t believe we do all have the same 24 hours in a day. Each of us has a very different 24 hours, and it’s this richness of experience that a diverse communications agency can bring to the table.